With a title such as Electric Dreams, the show suggests the unexpected from the very start. Walking into the space, you are immediately struck by the almost apocalyptic-style set, with plastic draping along the back, and distinctly placed book cases, disorganised with an array of books ranging from psychology to computer manuals. There is a eerie low drone as you enter the intimate room, immediately establishing a close atmosphere where something almost inhuman is imminent. There are three industrial-looking lights immediately above, which enhanced the confined atmosphere.
And so the show starts, as four actors walk on set with various masks, creating an element of shock that is very fitting to the show’s theme. We divulge into a story about Rose (Pia de Keyser), a sufferer of electric shock therapy in the 1970s, told through the findings of papers, photographs, and videos found by some librarians who have returned especially to tell us this story. It’s a story about shock, conspiracy and hidden sadness covered by government lies and dusted over with doctoral reassurance, amplifying the horror of the tale.
Due to the fact that it has an unusual subject matter, it was important to keep up with what the characters were saying. To give them their dues, they told the story very well, and with help from such an enclosed space, their direct address to the audience was very engaging and made a complex journey seem manageable. The heartache is found in the fact that by the end, you question whether Rose is actually telling the truth, or whether the first 18 erased years of her life (reattached together by various psychological methods) has caused her to be driven into damaged madness. The truthful performance from Pia de Keyser made this even more crushing as we followed her through her adventure, although I must say that I would have preferred slightly more erratic behaviour as Rose nearly reaches the pinnacle of her solution. This would have taken the level of emotion to agony both for Rose and the audience, as the librarians see an old woman full of uncomfortable corruption as opposed to the logical assumptions obtained from evidence she gathers throughout the piece.
That being said, I thought de Keyser’s performance was well fitting for the role. The other actor that really stood out to me was Jack Cole. His immediate happy-go-lucky appearance was intercepted with thoughts of depression, reflecting back on his past. I found that this created a real depth to the character, and therefore meant he was very watchable.
Considering that the actors also wrote this piece, I thought that it was quite well written, albeit complex. The ideas were clearly well thought out, and this was echoed in the acting, directing and the mise en scene of the piece. There was a slight issue with the space, as the actors tended to use a few levels, meaning that some of the work was lost if you were not sitting in the very front row. I was also unsure as to why the actors were all very British, despite the many references made to American buildings, hospitals, and a dollar bill, but I’m assuming this was an artistic choice which I did not seem to pick up on. The video use through the piece was extremely effective, with particular reference to the past displays of electric shock on humans and even a rabbit.
The whole piece is centred around the ‘shock factor’ and it is demonstrated well without being overly played up to. It makes you question the truth in what us as the public are told, without directly manifesting this, which is admirable. I believe that it is an interesting piece, and I would not be surprised if it proves to do well at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival later this year.
Electric Dreams is playing at Camden People’s Theatre until 9 May. For tickets and more information, see the Camden People’s Theatre website.